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Notes on the Bible Selector

First, I’ll assume that you are not a member of a sect that demands using the King James Version (KJV) or any other particular version.  KJV recommendations.  (Unfortunately, most of these sects do not actually use the complete KJV!)

At this stage, you want to decide what your bible should contain.  Do you want a bible that contains

  1. all (more) scripture, or
  2. a restricted selection of scripture?

Besides editions that contain all scripture, there are editions that contain only new testament books, others containing only books from the Hebrew bible, and still others (the majority) which exclude several scriptures in a somewhat cavalier fashion.

I will assume that you intend to read the entire bible, or at least wish to have the entire bible at your disposal.  In this case, you should obtain a bible that includes the Apocrypha (or, more accurately, deutero-canonicals).  There are some sects teaching that the Apocrypha is not inspired scripture, and if you are a member of one of these sects then simply avoid reading these scriptures.  There is no other reason for avoiding the so-called Apocrypha and every reason to get a bible which includes them.  Here is a more in-depth discussion about this topic.  In my conclusion I will consider two cases:

  1. You want a “complete” bible (Complete)
  2. You don’t care if the Apocrypha is included or not (Minimal)

The next stage is to decide if you want a bible merely for reading and learning the text of the bible itself, or if you intend to study scripture more deeply and intensely in order to gain a greater understanding and to help you interpret the scriptures accurately.  This is the difference between a “standard” edition bible and a (scholarly) study bible.  I will refer to this as “purpose” when I make recommendations below.

Finally, you need to decide whether you want a translation that offers

  1. ease of reading
  2. literalness of translation
  3. accuracy of translation

I separate these even though they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  Different versions do (must) follow primarily one of these three criteria, however, and so should you when making your choice.  I will refer to this as “style” when I make recommendations below. Comparisons of “literalness” of translation between versions can be found here and here and here.

An important note:  “literal” does not equate with “accurate!”  A translation that is more literal does not equate to a translation that is more accurate.  Indeed, in any language translation, literal translation tends to result in shortcomings in the accuracy of translation.

A note about the KJV:  although excellent for its time, and including nearly the entire body of scripture, as well as marginal notes from the translators providing possible alternate translations (making it a passable study bible), the KJV uses 400-year-old English, 400-year-old scholarship (read:  they didn’t know as much as scholars today), and texts that lacked the last 400 years of archaeological discoveries.  By no means was the KJV the first English version of the bible.  It’s main advantage today is that many people use some form of the KJV, and it is often useful to use the same version as others in discussions of scripture.

Recommendations:  you can look at a fairly thorough comparison of mechanical differences between versions, but what follows are my recommendations:

Style Style Purpose Purpose Content Content Recommendations Recommendations
Ease of Reading Reading Complete
Contemporary English Version (CEV):  Book, E-book (on CD)
2nd choice:  New American Bible (NAB) - not as easy to read but still easy, translation accuracy may be slanted slightly by Roman Catholic bias.
Ease of Reading Reading Minimal New International Version (NIV) - one of the easiest-to-read modern translations with higher marks for accuracy than most easy-to-read bibles.
Style Style Purpose Purpose Content Content Recommendations Recommendations
Literalness of Translation Study Complete
Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Oxford Annotated Bible, Expanded Edition - one of the most literal translations with some of the most scholarly study notes, though somewhat archaic language.
2nd choice:  New English Translation (NET) - literalness uncertain but copious translator’s notes help the reader achieve this goal.  Deutero-canonicals incomplete.
Literalness of Translation Study Minimal
New American Standard Bible (NASB), Scofield Study Bible - most literal modern translation, but study notes are for the most part independent of the translation.
2nd choice:  Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Oxford Annotated Bible - not as literal as the NASB but much more comprehensive and scholarly study notes, available with or without Apocrypha.
Style Style Purpose Purpose Content Content Recommendations Recommendations
Literalness of Translation Reading Complete Revised Standard Version (RSV) - most literal complete version, but somewhat archaic language.  Make certain to get a version that includes the Apocrypha.  (All “Catholic” bibles include most of these scriptures, and “Expanded Edition” includes the complete LXX, including 3 & 4 Maccabees).
Literalness of Translation Reading Minimal New American Standard Bible (NASB) - most literal modern-text bible, high marks for quality of translation.
Style Style Purpose Purpose Content Content Recommendations Recommendations
Accuracy of Translation Study Complete
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), Regular Edition - copious study notes, word use demonstrates great concern for accuracy of translation, my favorite version. Full Review
2nd choice:  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition - includes complete LXX (3 & 4 Maccabees), excellent scholarly study notes at least the equal of the 1st choice above, but translation suffers slightly from over-zealous use of “inclusive” language
Accuracy of Translation Study Minimal Same recommendations as above.  Note that the New Oxford Annotated is available without apocrypha.
Style Style Purpose Purpose Content Content Recommendations Recommendations
Accuracy of Translation Reading Complete
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), Reader’s Edition - word use demonstrates great concern for accuracy of translation, my favorite version.
2nd choice:  New English Translation (NET) - copious translator’s notes may make this the most accurate translation, but requires study to absorb the translation; deutero-canonicals incomplete.
Accuracy of Translation Reading Minimal
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), Reader’s Edition - word use demonstrates great concern for accuracy of translation, my favorite version.
2nd choice:  New English Translation (NET) - copious translator’s notes may make this the most accurate translation, but requires study to absorb the translation; deutero-canonicals incomplete.
3rd choice:  New International Version (NIV) - highly-regarded non-biased translation, not as careful (precise) as NJB but easier to read.

Recommendations for the true bible student (who doesn’t know Greek or Hebrew).  Note that I recommend several text-format study editions because software normally (always?) excludes the excellent study notes and includes only the text of the translation and, sometimes, individual book introductions.

  1. Software including NASB, KJV, NRSV, NJB and NIV — I use Ellis which lacks the NIV but only costs about $50.  Bible Explorer 4 Premium ($100) includes all required versions except the NJB, which can be added for $30.  Logos Bible Study Edition ($195) also requires the NJB to be added ($40), but includes the best KJV edition available, the Cambridge Paragraph.
  2. NJB Regular Edition — get it if you can, don’t settle for the Standard Edition.  Full Review
  3. NASB — make certain to get the latest version.  Get it in print if your software doesn’t have it, but note that normally software versions include an exhaustive concordance, a big plus.  Most literal translation.
  4. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition — NRSV translation demonstrates over-zealous use of inclusive language, but the study notes are invaluable, perhaps even better and less biased than NJB Regular Edition.
  5. One of these excellent King James editions:
  6. A good bible dictionary, such as HarperCollins Bible Dictionary.  There are a few equally good alternatives, and HarperCollins is getting old (1996, so recent discoveries are not included).
Honorable mentions:

Note:  this is the “alpha” bible selector, and will help you to choose a version based on your requirements.  A “beta” bible selector will be posted within a few days.  The beta version will allow you to select your criteria without having to read through all the recommendations, and will also offer a much more complete list of recommendations.  The “gamma” version (no projection for completion) will allow you to “weight” each criterion before selection, allowing secondary characteristics to help rank versions for your final inspection.

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